Bulletin of Dental Education

“Shopping” for Minority Students: A Not So Modest Proposal

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By Nicole Fauteux

“You can spend all of your recruitment money running around to a whole bunch of colleges trying to pick up one or two diverse people where you can, or you can go to the grocery store that you know sells organic.”

This provocative statement drew considerable laughter and serious consideration from attendees at the ADEA Commission on Change and Innovation College Presidents’ Symposium at the 2013 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition in Seattle. M. Christopher Brown II, Ph.D., President of  Alcorn State University , had a lot to say on how dental schools might increase their enrollment of minority students, and his grocery store analogy summed up the crux of his recommendations.

“It’s your choice,” he told an attentive audience. “I don’t like to spend a lot of time shopping. I like to go in and get what I came for and get back out.”

So where should dental schools in search of minority candidates do their shopping? Dr. Brown enumerated the six types of institutions where minority students are clustered, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges that serve American Indians. He told the audience that HBCUs play a pivotal role in educating future black professionals, and he cited some impressive statistics to support his claim.

  • HBCUs provide the undergraduate training for three quarters of all black persons holding a doctoral degree, three quarters of all black officers in the military forces, and four fifths of all black federal judges.
  • Fifty percent of all black faculty in research institutions earned their undergraduate degrees at HBCUs.
  • Seventy percent of all black dentists and physicians earned their undergraduate degrees at HBCUs.

“So you can run around to Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr. You can go to Harvard’s undergraduate recruitment fair all you want,” Dr. Brown concludes. “You're not going to get this pool.”

So how can dental schools partner with HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions of higher learning to diversify their enrollment? Dr. Brown offered five innovative ways to build a new, more effective minority student pipeline.

1. Identify a set of target undergraduate institutions and maximize those relationships. He gave the example of an initiative between his home institution, a historically black land-grant institution in Lorman, Mississippi, and Penn State University (PSU). The partners use curriculum alignment and a bridge program to place Alcorn graduates in PSU’s Ph.D. programs, and eleven Alcorn graduates are currently pursuing Ph.D.s in the sciences at PSU.

2. Design and implement senior-year absentia programs. Dr. Brown implemented joint B.S. and M.D. programs and B.S.N./M.S.N. programs with Vanderbilt University while he was at Fisk University. Students followed a prescribed curriculum during their first three years and then transferred to Vanderbilt to begin their professional educations in year four.

3. Create clear course credit articulation frameworks. Dental schools can improve their applicant pool by identifying which undergraduate courses will make students successful upon entry and providing clear guidance to the undergraduate institutions whose students they want to recruit.

4. Implement meaningful summer internship programs. Dr. Brown stressed that these cannot simply be exposure programs that take students on field trips and give them ice cream. In his view, such programs should require the levels and kinds of coursework that students will encounter in graduate school. He especially likes those programs that bring cohorts of students to the same institution every summer so they become acculturated prior to enrolling in graduate or professional schools.

5. Exchange faculty to teach feeder courses. Having university faculty teach undergraduate courses at feeder colleges, and providing opportunities for college faculty to teach seminars at partner universities, allows all parties to understand the expectations for student performance and gives students a taste of what lies ahead.

In closing, Dr. Brown suggested that these five initiatives applied across the matrix of the six different types of minority-serving institutions can provide a structured plan of action for diversifying dental schools. That’s a pretty audacious proposal, one that seemed to resonate with the ADEA members in attendance even as they identified potential obstacles to its implementation.

Following the talk, one questioner asked why the HBCU students Dr. Brown had described, all of whom might have succeeded in gaining entry into dental school, had not chosen dentistry. Dr. Brown answered that a lack of exposure to role models may lie at the root of this particular problem. 

“I don't think a lot of black children in Mississippi think, maybe I’ll grow up and be a dentist,” he says. Another member of the audience suggested that this might be where the exposure and ice cream comes in. Perhaps more than one trip to the grocery is in order.  

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